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Gee Whiz! Why Separate the Pee from the Poo? – aka Urine Diversion

Courtesy Joe Jenkins’ Humanure Handbook

There is something of a battle going on between the “bucket and chuck it” composting toilet crowd and the urine diverting composting toilet bunch. The bucket and chuck it followers see the urine diversion as an unnecessary step to what should be a simple process and they have a point in some respects. If you own a large piece of land with tons of compostable material so that you can create a composting mound large enough to create thermophilic composting through the winter and one that can absorb all the urine, then it could make sense to go the easier route. But the bucket and chuck it method can still be a nasty process. Sure, the toilet may not stink in your house, but when you empty it onto the composting mound it is a gloppy, stinky mess that must be washed out of the holding container. In addition, this requires the use of water to rinse out the container. This can sometimes be collected from rainwater as Jenkins system does but it still requires water which makes it less desirable in situations where water is scarce or composting material is scarce. But it is the best system in many circumstances.

Urine diverting system

Urine diversion, on the other hand, requires very little water and only for the occasional light rinse. In effect it requires no water. In the case of the C-Head, the solid waste can be handled easily and safely with no odor or danger of contamination. That is because the C-Head does not mash the solid waste into the composting medium (sawdust, peat moss, coco coir, aspen bedding, etc.) but rather gently rolls it in the medium to cover the outside. This wicks off the moisture that causes the offensive smell you would normally encounter. It also contains the moisture inside the waste itself. When emptying the bucket, this allows the solid waste and the medium to fall out of the collection bucket completely with only minimal amounts or often no waste at all remaining behind. If a rinse is needed, it requires very little water. In the case of boats, the bucket can be safely lowered into the water on a line for rinsing purposes without fear of causing any contamination to the water. There simply isn’t enough remaining waste to be a health problem.

Looking inside a full and an empty solid waste bucket

With respect to the urine, if the composting toilet is going to be used in a permaculture setting it makes a superior fertilizer by itself, having almost the same composition as commercial fertilizer and at no cost. Mixing it with the solid waste prevents you from using it immediately because it contaminates it for a period of time. It also doesn’t allow you to take advantage of its liquid state for the purposes of dispensing it. While some people are concerned about the potential danger of medications in urine, that danger doesn’t seem to change by mixing it with the solid waste if it is to be used for growing food. In any event, recent research is tending to indicate that the overwhelming majority of medications found in the soil are not absorbed at a significant rate in vegetables grown using urine. Most of the studies are focused on antibiotics used in the cattle industry and use of cattle manure as fertilizer which includes many “organically” grown vegetables. This has become so pervasive that there may be little you can do to avoid it in any case short of growing your own food using your own urine. At least you know which drugs would be present in trace amounts in your food if you use your own waste to grow your own food.

Before you get all wide eyed at the notion of using your waste to grow your food, know that for millennia people have used their waste (and still do) to grow food and survived. As recently as WWII, people treasured the waste taken out of the Americans’ field latrines. My father tells me the story about how a pretty young girl would come wearing a big leather apron and using a huge ladle, she would scoop out the poop to take to the fields. These were extreme times, to be sure, but the point is that modern prejudices don’t negate the ability to use humanure safely and effectively for growing food.

Courtesy 451st Bomb Squadron family members Tille Beauvois, France 1945

So the point is, there are many situations where urine diverting toilets are definitely the better choice. I haven’t even mentioned confined space usage such as RVs and boats where the bucket and chuck it system are simply not practical and are guilty of pollution in many cases. Not that dumping your waste in the woods is particularly a bad thing, but mixing urine and feces is not normally found in nature and when done, it makes itself known. For the BoonJon garden, the C-Head is superior because it uses a system of secondary dehydration prior to composting or burning. More on that in another blog. Stay tuned and feel free to comment below.

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